Life & Love

Are Relationships Less Exclusive Than Marriages?

The concept of exclusivity as it relates to romantic relationships

By Abigail Nwakanma

August 18, 2022

Are Relationships Less Exclusive Than Marriages?

Relationships are the rave of the moment (when have they never been?). What could be more adorable (or irksome) than seeing a lovey-dovey twosome doing their thing- being all loved up, holding hands, grinning ear to ear as they share inside jokes…you know, the whole couple thingy? Depending on the parties involved and their intentions, relationships are often a prelude to the main event called marriage (for those who intend to go that far). 

Exclusivity is one defining factor that characterizes romantic relationships (don’t bother to protest, I know there are exceptions). Relationships as we’ve come to understand, usually feature two individuals per time. I doubt it’s very common that your mind conjures up three persons when you allow yourself to think about the concept of love.

For the purpose of clarity, "Exclusivity" means that both persons in a relationship are only focused on one another; they are committed to each other physically, emotionally and romantically. Basically, it is an agreement not to cheat. As a prelude to marriage, relationships tend to mimic, with near precision, the fundamentals of matrimony, one of which is exclusivity. But is this actually the case? Are relationships less exclusive than marriages? Are marriages today even exclusive to begin with? 


In theory

In theory, relationships are less exclusive than marriages. Prior to marriage, people in relationships, regardless of the promises they may have made to each other, tend to be subconsciously receptive of the idea that they may not necessarily end up with the person they’re with. This possibility, in my opinion, is what makes relationships less exclusive than marriages, because at the end of the day, under normal circumstances, saying “I do” to someone means you are ready to spend the rest of your life with them (and only them). 

The popular saying “don’t let your boyfriend/ girlfriend prevent you from meeting your husband/ wife” underpins this theory in my opinion. Although this happens quite often, I am only theorizing because this is how things ought to be and as such, in putting this side by side with marriage, it would be safe to assume that the exchange of wedding vows between couples, before God and man, should stand as a bar to any intention that works against the promise or agreement of exclusivity in such a union… or does it? 


In practice

Reality almost always betrays idealism, and in the realities of so many people, marriage is no exception. In reality, relationships are neither more nor less exclusive than marriages. This is not an authoritative statement, because it is merely borne out of my personal observation. But then, look around for yourself, almost every marriage that started out on the course of exclusivity (monogamous marriages specifically) has been tampered by infidelity. So many exclusive marriages have more than two persons in them and this has made those yet to be married lose respect for the institution of marriage in that regard.

I mentioned earlier that relationships, to a substantial extent, mimic marriages. So then, in a world where the above is slowly becoming the rule rather than the exception, what do you expect? Exclusivity in marriages is becoming an illusion and a lot of people have found a strange comfort in accepting this as normal; and sadly, this is what many relationships today are mimicking. People even go as far as saying things like  "men/humans are polygamous in nature" or "is it possible to eat only egusi soup all your life, there must be variety" just to justify their decisions to look outside. 


I believe the best answer to the question: “are relationships less exclusive than marriages,” would ultimately depend on each individual - their intentions, experiences and general outlook on life. With this in mind, I'll be reaching out to people and asking them what they think about the whole thing. And yes, I am just as eager to hear the opinions of others with respect to the question on ground. I look forward to sharing these opinions with you in our next discussion!